The ANNpower Vital Voices Initiative is a groundbreaking partnership between Vital Voices and ANN INC., the parent company of Ann Taylor and LOFT, which seeks to empower young women across the U.S. to affect global progress, invest in their communities and draw inspiration from the work in Vital Voices’ Global Leadership Network. Allyson Ahlstrom is a 2012 ANNpower Fellow who attended the Leadership Forum in Washington, D.C. from June 4-7.
Here is Allyson’s story:
My name is Allyson Ahlstrom. I am 17 years old, and two years ago I started the non-profit and teen clothing store, Threads for Teens. Threads for Teens is not your standard clothing boutique; it has one big catch – all items in the store are free. This is because Threads for Teens’ main clientele are teenage girls living in foster care, group homes, or extreme situations of poverty. Research studies have shown a direct link between self-esteem and nice clothing. That is why I decided to start Threads for Teens, so that teen girls could gain the strong sense of confidence needed to be able to better realize their aspirations.
The idea for Threads for Teens came to me on Sunday, January 17, 2010. I read a book that day called Generation Change, by Zach Hunter, which detailed different service projects completed by teenagers. I had always wanted to do something to help my community, but felt that I was too young to do so. However, reading this book changed my perception. That very night, I came up with an idea, wrote a letter, and designed a logo for my project. Within a week, the idea, letter, and logo were mailed to over 300 different companies to solicit donations. Miraculously, clothing companies were receptive to the idea, so by August 2010, I had more than enough items to set up shop.
Threads for Teens became a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization in September of 2011. To date, there has been over $100,000 in-kind contributions and $40,000 monetary contributions. All of the clothing and accessories are brand-new and have been donated by over 40 national companies. Since the opening of the boutique, in August 2010, Threads for Teens has served over 185 young girls.
Last month, I was extremely fortunate to be able to participate in the ANNpower Vital Voices Leadership Forum, along with 49 other talented teenage girls. To say it was incredible is an understatement. The program truly impacted me and transformed the way I see myself as a leader. During the three program-packed days, we were split into working groups, where, under the guidance of an extremely empowering mentor, we learned how to successfully implement different leadership strategies into our service at home.
I worked with the fabulous Maria Pacheco, who supports a comprehensive development strategy in Guatemala through the Wakami Villages. From her, I learned about the importance of changing the mindset about development from one of “helping others” to “giving others the tools they need to realize their dreams.” This has helped me to understand how to not label people as just “charity cases.”
In the future, my goal is to open Threads for Teens boutique in all 50 states. This way, many more teenage girls will be given the tools to succeed. To accomplish this, I have been creating a model to implement in each boutique to make it self-sustainable and run on as little overhead as possible. I hope to accomplish this goal within 10 years.
If you would like to support Threads for Teens, please go to www.threadsforteens.org for information on how you can give.
Newsflash: 2012 ANNpower Fellows Allyson Ahlstrom and Mary-Brent Brown made it to the Final Four of Glamour‘s 2012 Readers’ Choice Award!